Jamaica's First Skatepark
Will Wilson, the co-founder of nonprofit organization Flipping Youth, is building Jamaica’s first skatepark. Wilson and his nonprofit are building Freedom SkatePark in an effort to make action sports an accessible recreational opportunity for Jamaican youth.

What Is Flipping Youth?

After an exposure to international poverty while volunteering abroad, passionate skateboarder Will Wilson came up with the idea for Flipping Youth — a nonprofit organization driven by the mission to “empower young people from challenging environments internationally through action sports, creative arts and entrepreneurship.” This unique idea has propelled Wilson to accomplish great acts of service in impoverished countries, specifically Jamaica. In addition to fostering strong skating communities, Flipping Youth seeks to promote youth entrepreneurship, teach business skills and improve employability.

Flipping Youth in Jamaica

After watching a viral skate video that showcased a talented, Jamaican skater and a budding skateboarding community in 2016 — Wilson decided to bring Flipping Youth to Kingston, Jamaica. The idea was to help grow the skateboarding community even more. Since then, Flipping Youth has developed both local and international relationships to better understand what sort of aid is most needed in Jamaica. Flipping Youth’s main goal at the time was to decide the best way to implement the Freedom SkatePark, in an effort to foster a strong community of Jamaican youth. Also, safety is an important feature of the program for Wilson. He wants to ensure that the skatepark will become neither a place for drugs nor other criminal activities.

Progress Through Partnerships

Though the planning and building process has been slow, the future looks promising for Jamaica’s first skatepark. Thanks to funding from popular skate brands such as Supreme New York and a partnership with a nonprofit called Concrete Jungle Foundation, the Freedom Skate Park is nearly complete. Notably so, Concrete Jungle Foundation helped to complete over half of the project, including the construction of the park, itself.

Kevin Bourke, a member of the Freedom Skatepark team, celebrated overcoming many obstacles throughout the project’s duration, stating “It shows that a project that was rooted in love [can’t] be stopped.”

Improving Communities Through Sports and Activities

Flipping Youth is not the only organization using recreational opportunities to empower youth, globally. In the past, UNESCO has used youth sports programs to encourage social cohesion in areas of conflict. Organizations like Flipping Youth understand the value of recreational opportunities for youth in struggling communities. Recreation is not just for fun; according to Dr. Seiko Sugita of UNESCO Beirut, “Sports [have] proven to be a cost-effective and powerful tool for promoting peace and human values such as respect for others, teamwork, discipline, diversity and empathy.”

Recreation and Youth Empowerment

Working from a similar approach, Will Wilson’s project to create Jamaica’s first skatepark is an example of international development rooted in recreational opportunities and youth empowerment. Flipping Youth and other organizations look to sports and activities as a means of creating strong, vibrant communities and thus — a better future for younger generations and society as a whole.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Pixabay

Tennis in Poverty-Stricken Countries
Around the world, people have always considered tennis to be an aristocratic sport. Although tennis is one of the most popular sports worldwide, many people in poor nations simply do not have the infrastructure to play. However, tennis in poverty-stricken countries is growing in popularity. From post-Soviet European societies to rapidly developing African nations, tennis is spreading to a diverse community of people all over the world, and it is helping catalyze the development of under-resourced areas.

Rising Stars: Tennis in Eastern Europe

One prominent example is the effect that tennis has had in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region. The brutal internal conflict spanning nearly 20 years at the end of the 20th century centered around border disputes and ethnic boundaries between Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians. As war ravaged the former Yugoslavia, tennis became an outlet for many youths to escape the conflict and make a name for themselves. One such youth was a boy named Novak Djokovic, who went on to receive wide regard as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Djokovic, who experienced his transformative years in Belgrade, Serbia during the late 1990s, described growing up with tremendous adversity. Like other tennis players, he sometimes had to play in abandoned swimming pools because the courts experienced bombing. Partially accrediting his later success to this difficult childhood, Djokovic recalled one period from 1999: “We were waking up every single night at 2 or 3 a.m. for two and a half months because of the bombings.” He went on to articulate that “these experiences made me a champion, it made us tougher, made us more hungry for success.”

The “us” he refers to is his cadre of fellow Eastern European tennis players from war-torn or poverty-stricken countries in the 1990s. The Serbs took the tennis world by storm in the 2000s, dominating both men’s and women’s tours. Janko Tipsarević, Filip Krajinović, Nenad Zimonjic, Jelena Janković and Ana Ivanović are just a few examples. The popularity of tennis radiated from the war-torn Balkan nations northward to poor post-Soviet states like Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics, and even to Russia. All of these countries now have players in the top 100 world rankings.

Progress On and Off the Courts

Though one cannot overlook the impact of the sport on world rankings, tennis has also helped develop and unify struggling nations. Extracurricular programs and character development among children are just a few positive side-effects of tennis. Indeed, following the conflict at the end of the 20th century, Balkan nations have seen relative progression and development. This formula of development through tennis also appears in other regions of the world.

Africa suffers from many circumstances similar to the Balkans such as poverty, despair and ethnic conflict. Tennis in poor countries in Africa can offer incremental progress toward building strong young people for the future and mending broken societies. Many organizations share this vision. Tennis in Africa, a nonprofit organization, is trying to kickstart tennis infrastructure in Ghana and other nations to help build not only technical tennis skills but also life skills to bring families out of extreme poverty. In July 2018, locals received a tennis clinic in Ghana well. Organizations like Tennis in Africa provide year-round training for impoverished youth on the continent, helping cultivate the seeds of growth and development in an underprivileged area of the world.

Working in conjunction with other support efforts, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) development fund has its sights set on the African continent too. Being the central governing body of tennis, the ITF raised its budget by 12% to a total of $11.3 million in 2019. The ITF works to give underprivileged athletes financial support in traveling and making a living through tennis, while also covering other areas of development like coaching, facilities and administration to underprivileged communities. In addition to these organizations, some of the most successful tennis players in the world, like Rafael Nadal, are using tennis as a means of an education — both physical and emotional — all over the world. In one such project that the Rafa Nadal Foundation conducted, underprivileged youth in India received access to tennis and education through Nadal Educational Tennis School (NETS). NETS aims to alleviate extreme poverty in Anantapur, India by enrolling over 200 disadvantaged children each year. NETS is just one example of how tennis can be a positive societal force to spur progress, especially for future generations.

Hope for Tennis Players Worldwide

Though tennis has traditionally been a sport of privilege and wealth, the modern game is seeing many new faces from disadvantaged parts of the world. Especially for young people, tennis in poverty-stricken countries offers a unique opportunity for character development, as well as building healthy physical habits. Beginning with Eastern Europe, tennis has had an overwhelmingly positive social influence, helping nations recover from economic, social and political upheaval. There is no reason why the sport should not receive extension into underdeveloped nations across the world, providing a vehicle to help lift people out of extreme poverty.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Flickr

Tackling Global Poverty
Through charity and missionary work, five NFL stars are tackling global poverty. Celebrities making substantial contributions to global poverty reduction is a sure-fire inspirational lift. These individuals also provide a refreshing glimpse into how NFL stars give back where it counts.

5 NFL Stars Tackling Global Poverty

  1. Tom Brady has appeared in the previous three Super Bowls and has walked away with six rings out of his nine historic appearances. In addition to these accolades and a Wikipedia page the size of a full-length novel, Tom Brady is accomplishing substantial impact off the football field. Tom Brady has participated in charity work with five different charities: Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Club, Eastern Congo Initiative, Entertainment Industry Foundation and KaBOOM!. The Best Buddies International nonprofit organization, that Brady founded, dedicates itself to intellectually and developmentally disabled people. Brady works with Best Buddies International and has aided in fundraising of $20 million in the last six years.
  2. Chris Long, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman and two time Super Bowl champion, has teamed with Doug Pitt, the Tanzania Goodwill Ambassador, to create the Waterboys initiative. The two football players have enlisted other players to raise resources and funds for the Waterboys, a clean water project in Tanzania. Long has personally raised over $543,000 for clean water sanitation. The initiative locates remote villages in need of clean water and hires crews to install solar-powered well, which provides clean water. Currently, the Waterboys have funded 83 wells that have impacted 345,000 people.
  3. Kelvin Beachum, an offensive tackle for the New York Jets, has a commitment to ending world hunger through charitable efforts. Beachum has worked with Bread for the World, World Vision and Feeding America. He has even donated his time by traveling to Honduras to aid World Vision. This nonprofit organization has helped over 3.5 million children in nearly 100 countries since 1950.
  4. Nnamdi Asomugha, a former cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, has set new heights by tackling global poverty through charity work. As the founder of the Asomugha Foundation, he established this organization to empower orphans and widows in Nigeria to pursue higher education. The core of the foundation is to bring about the opportunity of higher education to transform impoverished communities. The Asomugha Foundation also provides food, shelter and medicine to victims of poverty and abuse in Nigeria.
  5. Nate Sudfeld is another Super Bowl attending quarterback who knows what it takes to score big off the field. Sudfeld has been making contributions to the nonprofit Assist International. This nonprofit has 500 projects through 65 countries where Sudfeld has traveled to Romania, Africa and several additional countries to aid poverty reduction efforts. Such contributions have impacted people who lead poverty-stricken lives by improving the quality of life.

Five NFL stars are tackling global poverty while creating a powerful impression on the U.S. population. These players continue to make history on and off the field through charity where even the smallest contributions change human lives by reducing global poverty.

– Andre Davis 
Photo: Pixabay

Goals for Girls: Sports and Empowerment“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination,” said South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. More than 240 million people play soccer. At least 30 million girls participate in the sport. Goals for Girls helps young women across the globe score their own goals and celebrate empowerment.

Goals For Girls

Goals for Girls changes the world of young women. It started with a team of 16-year-old soccer players who opted to impact the world through soccer rather than compete at an international tournament. Now, Goals for Girls has teamed up with funding agencies, new partners and stars of the U.S. women’s national soccer team to teach and develop young women into agents of change through soccer. The organization aspires to give each young girl the tools to become a world changer.

Sports offer many psychological and physical benefits for girls and women. People who participate in sports benefit from a more positive body image, self-concept and overall well-being. In 2016, Saudi Arabia sent four women to compete in the Rio Olympics. This historical move represented a forward shift for women in Saudi Arabia. Before, they had faced discrimination and had restricted rights; they still do.

Maria Toorpakai, a Pakistani squash player, uses her sport to face and fight the Taliban. She gained their attention as she rose to fame. She moved to Canada to train, but she hopes to go back to Pakistan to bring sports to boys and girls. The U.S. women’s national soccer team is paid one-fourth of what their male counterparts are, but it is paving the way for the equal pay movement.

India

India hosted the first Goals for Girls program in 2014. The program tackled awareness, communication, teamwork and goal-setting. These are the four international summit pillars of Goals for Girls. The organization aimed to facilitate activities that help with issues the young girls faced on a regular basis like gender-based violence, child marriage and education inequality.

Child marriage has been practiced for centuries in India. In 2016, 27 percent of marriages were child marriages. Luckily, this is improving. Child marriage has decreased from 47 percent in 2006. Child marriage facilitates the cycle of poverty which enables malnutrition, illiteracy and gender discrimination. Child marriage also perpetuates a cycle of gender-based violence and education inequality.

Girls are more likely to be pulled from educational opportunities. Additionally, girls who marry young tend to have lower educational levels and are perceived as an economic liability to their family. UNICEF is working with the Indian government to forgo child marriage through girls’ empowerment, which aligns with the mission of Goals for Girls.

South Africa

South Africa became a country of focus after the launch of the program in 2007. In South Africa, the program centers around the aforementioned international pillars, but the activities are tailored toward issues plaguing girls in South Africa like HIV, teenage pregnancy and education inequality.

There have been strides made in recent years to combat the HIV epidemic. Despite having the largest antiretroviral treatment program globally, South Africa still has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. Poverty, along with gender-based violence and gender inequality, perpetuates the discrepancy between gender and HIV rates. In 2016, South Africa implemented the “She Conquers” campaign to increase economic opportunities for women, prevent gender-based violence and keep girls in school.

Sports have been a platform for change for many women on a global scale. Goals for Girls is working to make that change even stronger. It is providing girls with education, teamwork building skills and important life skills. Its ultimate goal is women’s equality.

Gwendolin Schemm
Photo: Flickr

Sports have always been integral in society. They serve as an outlet for many to escape their daily troubles and exist as a way to unify groups of people. Athletes in modern times are lauded for their skill and their lavish lifestyles. However, the truth of the matter is that many of these competitors did not grow up with the privileges they have earned today. These are five athletes that rose from poverty.

5 Athletes Who Rose From Poverty

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo: Hailed as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, Ronaldo did not have an easy upbringing. Ronaldo was born in a poor neighborhood in Fungal, Portugal in 1985. His father was an equipment manager at a local soccer club while his mother was a cook and a housekeeper. Ronaldo did not grow up with much but grew fond of soccer because of his father’s profession. After being recruited by a local boys’ soccer club, Ronaldo left his family to go to Lisbon at the age of 12. Despite being frequently ostracized due to his thick accent, Ronaldo kept surging forward. At age 16, Manchester United signed Ronaldo to a more than $14 million contract. This was the largest ever given to a player his age. Ronaldo went on to win a plethora of awards and accolades for his feats in soccer. Outside of soccer, Ronaldo has been extremely charitable. In 2015, Ronaldo donated more than $6 million to help those impacted by the earthquake in Nepal. Ronaldo also worked to improve medical facilities in Portugal. His net worth currently sits at $460 million, making Ronaldo the wealthiest of these five athletes who rose from poverty.
  2. Jose Aldo: A renowned UFC fighter, Aldo is another athlete that vanquished the detrimental effects of poverty. Aldo was born into a poor household in the city of Manaus in Brazil. Aldo’s father was a bricklayer while his mother was a housewife. Love tied the family of six together, but that took a turn when his mother and father split when Aldo was young. Aldo stayed with his father. Frequent street fights prompted Aldo to learn capoeira. Despite being talented, capoeira classes were draining his finances, so he moved on to pursue jiu-jitsu with his mentor, Marcio Pontes. At age 17, Aldo went to Rio de Janeiro without a dime to his name. There were days when he had little to no food, but this did not disrupt his resolve. Aldo currently holds the most wins in UFC and WEC featherweight history. He is a two-time UFC Featherweight Champion and one-time WEC Featherweight Champion. Outside of the ring, Aldo also routinely performs charity work and donates funds to help those in need. In 2015, Aldo played in a charity soccer match in his home country to raise food for people in need; it was immensely successful.
  3. Kassim Ouma: A former professional boxer, Kassim Ouma has, perhaps, the most appalling story out of these five athletes who rose from poverty. Born into extreme poverty in Uganda in 1978, Ouma’s life was already very difficult. At the age of five, he was kidnapped from his family and forced to join the National Resistance Army. Ouma was trained to do horrific things that no child should have to bear. Ouma did not see his family for three years. In 1998, Ouma was considered to have deserted the Ugandan army because of his venture to the U.S. to compete in a boxing tournament. Ouma pursued boxing to make money and ensure that his family never has to share his experiences. Ouma went on to win the IBF world junior middleweight title in 2004. He serves as an activist for global issues surrounding poverty despite being unable to physically return to Uganda. Furthermore, in 2006, Ouma started a charity called Natabonic Incorporated to help the needy in Uganda.
  4. Yasiel Puig: Surrounded by poverty and suboptimal living conditions, Yasiel Puig had longed to go to the United States and play baseball from an early age. Puig was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Puig played baseball for Cuba, but he only earned $17 per month due to the impoverished conditions as a product of the Castro dictatorship. As a result, Puig became desperate to go to the U.S. and play baseball there. In June 2012, when he was successfully smuggled to Mexico by an illicit group with ties to the drug cartel, Los Zetas. Through negotiations with the president of two Miami companies, Raul Pacheco, Puig was released and went on to play for the Dodgers. In the field, Puig founded the Wild Horse Children Foundation to inspire children in less affluent communities and ensure that they do not struggle with the same things that he did.
  5. Bibiano Fernandes: The last of these five athletes who rose from poverty is Bibiano Fernandes. His resilience can be attributed to his early life struggles. Like Jose Aldo, Fernandes was born in Manaus, Brazil. His mother died when Fernandes was seven years old and his father left his five kids because he could not provide for them. After scavenging and begging on the streets, Fernandes went hunting for food in the Amazon forest. He and his siblings stayed there for several years. Fernandes returned to the city after contracting an illness that nearly killed him. He discovered jiu-jitsu while washing car windows at a streetlight near a dojo. After some assistance from a friend, Fernandes was able to partake in lessons at the dojo and soon became a top student. He evolved into one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the world, winning three championships. He has since taken up MMA fighting with a Canadian mentor.

Sports are an avenue for athletes to get their stories heard. These five athletes who rose from poverty are a small sample of athletes who have endured a significant amount to attain success. As acclaimed Olympian, Emil Zatopek once said, “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head”.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

Professional Athletes Who Grew Up Impoverished
The world’s population of human beings is vast and immensely complex. Across the planet, thousands of different languages, religions and traditions contribute to the everyday lives of its people. However, nearly all civilizations have one thing in common: sports. Since the development of the most ancient civilizations, humans have created numerous ways to come together and pass the time with recreation. It continues to be a major aspect of society today, so much so that athletes such as Argentinian soccer player Lionel Messi receive as much as $127 million per year. It is no secret that professionals like Messi are some of the highest-paid individuals in the world, but many of them had extremely difficult upbringings. Here are four professional athletes who grew up impoverished and used their past as motivation for the improvement of their future.

4 Professional Athletes Who Grew Up Impoverished

  1. Pelé: Pelé, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, has helped his Brazilian team win three World Cups throughout his career. He was born in Três Corações, Brazil, in 1940. He lived in extreme poverty during his childhood and developed most of his early soccer skills by playing with a makeshift bundle of rags that hardly resembled a soccer ball. Pelé’s story is a prime example of how a common cultural element such as recreation has the power to propel someone into an entirely new way of life. In 2018, Pelé launched a self-named foundation “to help children of the world better their lives as people in [his] childhood helped [him] to better [his].” The Pelé Foundation has since partnered with Pencils of Promise and Charity: Water to fulfill its mission of helping the world’s impoverished youth.
  2. Bibiano Fernandes: Bibiano Fernandes, also known as “The Flash” for his ability to finish fights so early, is one of the most successful fighters in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts (MMA). He was born in Manaus, a city located near the Amazon rainforest. After his mother died and his father abandoned the family, 8-year-old Fernandes took to the jungle as a means of survival. He lived off of the land for approximately two years before returning to the city. Once he went back to Manaus, he worked as a window washer. During this seemingly hopeless point in his life, he met a group of men who practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They accepted him into their training group and he grew into a champion. For a child who took to the forest to avoid starvation, the grappling sport was a lifeline, an opportunity for Fernandes to quite literally fight his way out of poverty. Today, he aims to reach retirement and continue to provide for his wife and children. He prides himself on having worked hard for his accomplishments and encourages his fans to pursue their goals regardless of how impossible they may seem.
  3. Yasiel Puig: Yasiel Puig has played for three major American baseball teams: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds and now the Cleveland Indians. His nickname is “The Wild Horse” because of his unpredictable, exciting way of playing. Born into poor conditions in Cuba, Puig developed an interest in baseball at a very early age. His desire to escape his hometown and play for Mexico resulted in a journey that would change his life forever. At the age of 21, Puig snuck out of Cuba on a cigarette boat. What should have been a relatively smooth journey became complicated by the fact that the smugglers did not receive the pay they were to receive for transporting the baseball player. Restless and angry, they held him captive, occasionally threatening to cut off an arm or a finger so that he would never play baseball again. Several long, difficult weeks passed before Puig finally reached his destination. A staged kidnapping ambushed his captors and soon landed Puig at his audition to play for Mexico City. Puig proves that no matter how treacherous life’s ventures may be, the child inside remains alive and strong enough to push one forward towards their wildest dreams.
  4. Kassim Ouma: Kassim Ouma has one of the most unique stories among these professional athletes who grew up impoverished. He was born in Uganda and lived in extreme poverty until the age of 6 when his life abruptly flipped upside down. It was at this age that the National Resistance Army kidnapped Ouma, a militant force revolting against the Ugandan government. The resistance forced him to fight as a child soldier until the war ceased roughly three years later. Once he returned home, he began working to build a better future for him and his family. He took up boxing and trained his way to the Ugandan national boxing team, and later decided to stay in the U.S. after visiting for a tournament. Ouma serves as an example to all that even the darkest beginnings can lead to light at the end of the tunnel. He now uses his influence to advocate for change in Africa and runs a charity organization called Natabonic, which helps to fund education for his friends and family in his home village of Maga Maga.

These professional athletes who grew up impoverished serve as reminders that with hope and compassion, one can fight (and win) even the most impossible battles. Of course, not every starving child on the planet is going to become a world-renowned athlete and sports will not lead all participants out of poverty.  However sports can be a path to a better life and these stories emphasize that recreation brings people together, and where people come together, anything is possible.

– Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

One Common Goal
Common Goal has 765 members who benefit 133 organizations with just a 1 percent pledge. All it takes to overcome the social challenges of the world is one common goal. Common Goal has a large team, larger than the 11 players that usually suit up to take on an opponent on the soccer field, but it takes all players sharing one common goal to tackle the social problems of the world.

The Cause

Common Goal’s campaign unites “the global football community in tackling the greatest social challenges of our time.” With one common goal, the world’s toughest opponents, like HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination and youth employment, must face a team of 765 individuals committed to a better tomorrow.

Two hundred and sixty-five million people play soccer, with 5 million more refereeing the game. Soccer is without a doubt the world’s most popular sport as nearly 4 percent of the global population is involved with the game to some degree.

Members of the Common Goal campaign donate 1 percent of their earnings to a central fund which then allocates the resources towards the advancement of the United Nations’ global goals.

Signature Names

Soccer superstars from around the world pledge their commitment to a common goal, acknowledging that individuals are only so powerful, but as a team, they can change the world. The United States’ Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, Spain’s Juan Mata, Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Germany’s Mats Hummels are among those representing their countries with one common goal.

World leaders identified 17 goals that the world should achieve by 2030. With eliminating poverty at number one, the top five global goals include zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and gender equality.

Health and Hunger Crisis

Poverty and hunger are linked. The Hunger Project identifies hunger as a “dimension of extreme poverty” and “the most severe and critical manifestation of poverty.” While not every person living in poverty faces chronic hunger, nearly all facing chronic hunger live in poverty. Resources like The Hunger Project combat the hunger problem by increasing women’s economic support, boosting agricultural support efforts and creating self-reliant food banks.

Political, social and economic injustices are often the causes of poor health worldwide. Poor health sometimes entraps individuals in poverty in which poor health then traps communities in poverty. In turn, this negatively affects economic growth. Disease and infection often impact marginalized groups the most. The Global Goals’ action reduced childhood deaths by half over the past 15 years showing the world’s ability to win against every illness and disease. Worldwide good health is possible through healthy lifestyles and efficient health care.

Knowledge is Power

Education is one way to prevent the cycle of poverty. In some situations, people living in poverty often forgo education to work, and then the cycle continues. Educational programs, like those provided by ChildFund International, aim to provide programs by teaching literacy and numeracy skills to open a world of opportunity.

Across the world, women’s voices are often deterred in favor of their male counterparts. Young girls are the ones who miss out on educational opportunities because people see their worth as less. Girls and women’s human rights are at risk in poverty situations. Equality across all frames benefits not only females, but it could unlock the world’s potential. Gender Equality Programming aids women by ensuring equal access to decisions and humanitarian aid.

The Common Goal campaign looks to combat these social problems. A young soccer player from Chile cites soccer as a source of life. Chile faces a poverty rate of 18 percent. Common Goal and Wash United combated period poverty in India, a nation where people do not often talk about periods.

Through the reach of the soccer community, millions of people are united in the fight. In fact, the world’s social challenges have no chance against a team of 765 members.

Gwendolin Schemm
Photo: Flickr

The NBA and Africa
The National Basketball Association is changing rapidly. The recipients of many of the awards and accolades handed out for the 2018-2019 season of the NBA epitomized this change. The Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is from Greece. The Rookie of the Year, Luka Dončić, is from Spain. The Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, is from France. Also, Pascal Siakam, a towering Cameroonian who helped lead the Toronto Raptors to the organization’s first championship, was the league’s Most Improved Player. Basketball is becoming more popular internationally and the sport is attracting players from across the globe who have the potential to be stars. Moreover, the NBA and Africa are closely intertwining due to the organization’s search for skilled African athletes.

Africa’s Untapped Potential

Europe, Asia and South America produce many excellent players, but scouts, recruiters and NBA executives are compelled to draw from the largely untapped potential of Africa. Many want to find the next Pascal Siakam or Joel Embiid. Embiid is a seven-foot-tall Allstar center who grew up in Cameroon, like Siakam. The NBA and Africa are forming a strong relationship. In the search of talent, the NBA is not forgetting the needs of impoverished peoples. Many Africans are educating themselves about the game of basketball and the NBA through youth development camps, community service programs and business events.

In 2018, the NBA held the third ever NBA Africa Game in honor of Nelson Mandela’s legacy and gave back to the community through Basketball Without Borders, BWB, Africa and NBA Cares. It donated the proceeds from the sell-out games to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, UNICEF and other charities. BWB provides 78 of the top male and female youth prospects from 29 African countries the opportunity to develop skills with current and former professional basketball players and coaches, like Joel Embiid. The prospects work on their game, but also learn about important life skills like communication and teamwork. These skills are essential for both basketball and everyday life.

Giving Back

The relationship continues to grow because the NBA and Africa have a lot to offer each other. While the assumption is that Africa could potentially produce many great basketball players, people often understate how community development can provide NBA players and officials with a fulfilling outlet for making the world a better place while gaining a perspective on the struggles of impoverished peoples. In 2017, over 200 volunteers from the NBA went to Lenasia, South Africa and helped build 10 homes for low-income families. Two of the volunteers were Allstar players Kemba Walker and C.J. McCollum. They emphasized how the experience was truly eye-opening and humbling.

The Basketball Africa League

In 2019, the NBA and FIBA, The International Basketball Federation, announced plans to create a professional basketball league in Africa, which would be the first instance of the NBA getting involved in a league outside of North America. The Basketball Africa League will consist of 12 teams from across the continent and former U.S. President, Barack Obama, plans to involve himself with the league’s operations. The NBA and FIBA are going to support the league financially in hopes of expanding the market of basketball across the globe. This league has the potential to be extremely beneficial for the NBA and Africa as it produces both talented players and economic, social and technological opportunities for the continent.

– Grant DeLisle
Photo: Flickr

Soccer without bordersSoccer is more than just a sport. It connects people from all around the world, crossing boundaries and eliminating limitations. Soccer Without Borders embodies exactly what soccer’s purpose is. Soccer Without Borders is dedicated to building a more inclusive world using the world’s universal language. Founded in 2006, Soccer Without Borders achieves its vision through youth-development programs serving underprivileged youth in more than 65 countries.

Soccer without Borders

The nonprofit organization believes that creating meaningful change is more important than the actual sport. They build their programs around the interpersonal element of the sport to meaningfully impact their youth’s physical, social and individual progression by using soccer as an agent of positive change in the development of skills necessary to overcome obstacles.

Impacting nearly 2,000 children on a yearly basis, Soccer Without Borders stretches across 10 countries. In the United States, the organization is stationed in Baltimore, Greely, Seattle and Oakland. Refugees seeking asylum in the United States comprise more than 70 percent of Soccer Without Borders participants. Internationally, Soccer Without Borders has program offices in Uganda and Nicaragua. In the past, Soccer Without Borders has worked in several countries in Latin America and Africa.

Soccer in Nicaragua

As one of the poorest countries in Latin America, more than two million Nicaraguans live in poverty with 20 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. Children are the first to suffer from poverty. Faced with health problems, violence and abuse, children lack the same opportunity. In particular, young girls are often victims of sexual exploitation, child marriage and human trafficking, increasing gender inequalities. Many children, especially girls, do not receive an education because of these disparities.

Founded in 2008, Soccer Without Borders hosts a program in Granada, Nicaragua. The organization works with girls ages 7 to 20 through the league with year-round programs, camps and clinics. In Nicaragua, the participants of Soccer Without Borders are 100 percent girls. The organization also provided education scholarships to 99 girls between 2013 and 2016.

Soccer in Uganda

Soccer Without Borders also founded a program based in Kampala, Uganda in 2008. There, the organization serves male and female youth refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi. Ages range from ages 5-23, and they participate in tournaments, festivals and a variety of community events. Forty-one percent of the participants are female, and most of the coaches are refugees themselves.

A 2016 poverty reduction assessment shows Uganda has reduced poverty from a monetary perspective, but the nation still lags behind in non-monetary areas such as sanitation, health and education. Children often end up living in the streets, victims of child labor, child trafficking and child abuse. Both young girls and boys are forced into harsh situations. Boys become members of the armed forces while girls are forced to prostitute themselves. Young girls are often victims of violence and child marriage.

How Sports Can Help

Soccer and other sports can act as an agent of change. While they cannot eradicate poverty, sports help blur the divisive lives of inequality that poverty creates. Sports focus on building children’s developmental needs to then address the larger needs of the surrounding communities. Education through sports like soccer can provide children with skills such as decision making and taking responsibility that apply both on and off the field. The goal of sports is to help children develop the necessary skills to break the cycle of poverty.

For its efforts, Soccer Without Borders was named the winner of the 2016 Barry & Marie Lipman Family Prize by the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania. The organization was also awarded the 2017 Urban Soccer Symposium Impact Award by U.S. Soccer as well as the 2018 Sports Award Winner by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Most notably, Soccer Without Borders earned the FIFA Diversity Award in 2017.

Gwen Schemm
Photo: Cloudfront

Sports for South African Girls
The importance of participation in sports for South African girls is pivotal to the long-term success of not only the individual lives of young women but for the country as a whole. South Africa produces talented Olympic athletes, such as Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk, and has a love of soccer, rugby and cricket in addition to track and field, cycling and many others. Irrespective of this continued investment of time, energy and money into national sports, women continue to be underrepresented and receive the least amount of support as athletes. For example, at professional levels, the nation’s three most popular sports – soccer, rugby and cricket – have yet to establish high-profile professional leagues for women.

According to the most recent study conducted by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, of the Olympic athletes receiving support, only nine out of 30 are women. Out of the 20 coaches who are working with these Olympic athletes, only three are women.

South Africa was one of the first countries to adopt The Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport, a set of laws passed to increase women’s participation in sports. In addition, the country passed the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Act to remedy inequalities in sport and recreation in South Africa by requiring federations to make necessities available for women and disabled people to participate at the top levels of sports. Despite these efforts, sports and gender equality in South Africa has not yet been achieved.

Why It Matters

For young women, equal representation of female athletes is important because it can positively influence their desire to compete in sports and seek the benefits which they provide. People can only believe what they see, so more work needs to be done surrounding media coverage and daily exemplification. Sports not only promote physical health and wellness, but they also teach discipline, dedication, determination and teamwork. These learned skills are important for application in life beyond sports and help create future female leaders.

Participation in sports provides students with the opportunity to socialize with their peers, promotes students’ health, improves physical fitness, increases academic performance and provides a sense of relaxation. In spite of these benefits, participation in sports for South African girls peaks between the ages of 10 to 13 years but then declines until the age of 18.

A study done in the rural province of Limpopo, South Africa found that 101 female students from 17 to 24 years old did not participate in sports because of five common barriers. These included: “I don’t like the dress code,” “lack of energy,” “lack of family support,” “family commitments” and “not in my culture.” Dress code remains a major barrier to participation in sports among girls in rural areas. In particular, Xhosa and Tsonga women will not wear sports attire like pants or shorts because they do not consider it culturally unacceptable.

Several factors influence the level of participation. One can break these factors down into structural, intrapersonal and interpersonal constraints. Structural factors refer to a lack of facilities, time constraints or financial resources. Intrapersonal constraints refer to the psychological states of individuals. Interpersonal constraints include a lack of partners or friends.

A Lack of energy was also a barrier which could be caused by the reduction of physical activity participation in physical education in schools, but exercise can actually increase energy levels. Lack of family support revealed that females without encouragement or support from their families to participate in school sports are less likely to participate in them moving forward.

U.N. Women and the Promotion of Female Empowerment

Systematically ingrained cultural beliefs, like dress code, are some of the reasons for a lack of female participation in sports. If these beliefs can be dismantled on a small, everyday level there is an ability to create more widespread acceptance across South Africa.

That is where organizations such as U.N. Women and Grassroot Soccer come in. The U.N. Women’s goal is to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women in developing countries. These organizations aim to set global standards for achieving gender equality and work with governments and civil society to design laws, policies and programs that ensure the standards are not only beneficial to women and girls worldwide, but effectively implemented as well. One of their many goals includes increasing female participation in sports as a means to fulfill four pillars.

  1. Women lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems.
  2. Women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy.
  3. All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence.
  4. Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action.

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer is just one example of the work U.N. Women is investing in. This program is a grantee of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Grassroot Soccer uses the power of soccer to encourage young people to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS and to prevent violence against women and girls.

In 2009, it created the SKILLZ Street program in South Africa to specifically target and address the needs of adolescent girls who are at a higher risk of contracting HIV and AIDS than males. Fast forward to 2014 and 2015, almost 3,000 girls from the ages of 10 to 14 years old graduated from the program.

Many of these girls are from townships, a term used to refer to the underdeveloped and racially segregated urban areas reserved for nonwhites in the Apartheid era. Township residents have a lack of access to basic sewerage, adequate roads, electricity, clean water, education and overexposure to gangs and gang violence. The young women participating in the SKILLZ Street Program range from Soweto and Alexandra townships in Johannesburg and Khayelitsha township in Cape Town.

Grassroot Soccer’s Managing Director, James Donald, explains the importance for South African female participation in sports saying, “For us, sport…means we can build relationships with children in a safe space that they are proud of participating in.” He goes on to explain that “[it] also provides a plethora of ready images, metaphors and analogies that children can relate to. Soccer, in particular, is a powerful way to challenge norms and stereotypes around gender.”

The knowledge surrounding the importance of participation in sports for South African girls needs to be more widespread in order to improve the long-term success of impressionable young women in this still developing country. An investment in organizations such as Grassroot Soccer is pivotal to aid women to go on to become confident future leaders who can set good examples for generations of South African girls to come.

– Meredith Breda
Photo: Flickr